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Works of Thomas Nashe


  1588 Anatomie of Absurditie


Written early, probably while Nashe was still at Cambridge. Self-consciously "literary" in style, it begins as an attack on female faults and shades into a criticism of current literary trends. Though registered on 19 September 1588, it wasn't printed till early 1590.

  1589 An Almond for a Parrat Published anonymously but generally believed to be by Nashe, this anti-puritan pamphlet came out during the "Martin Marprelate" controversy, when the government was encouraging writers to counter the lively propaganda of the underground puritan press. (The puritans were Protestant fundamentalists who thought the English reformation hadn't gone far enough: their secret spokesman used the pen-name "Martin Marprelate", "Mar-prelate" equalling "Priest-basher") Under the influence of his enemy "Martin's" racy vernacular, Nashe's prose style takes a giant step forward.  
  1589 Preface to Menaphon Menaphon was a prose romance by the tireless Robert Greene, and perfectly reflected the current taste for Arcadian love stories. As Greene was a highly popular author it was a good break for Nashe to be asked to write a twelve-page preface to his latest best-seller. Ever combative, Nashe used it to attack Greene's rivals.

  1592 Pierce Penilesse his Supplication to the Divell


The breakthrough. After he published this pamphlet Nashe didn't need to ride on Greene's coat tails any longer, he was famous in his own right. Pierce Penilesse was published in London while Nashe was at the Croydon home of Archbishop Whitgift, producing a play (see below) and avoiding dying of the plague. It was so popular it went into a second edition almost immediately.
This work both made Nashe's name and gave him his name. To many of his contemporaries Nashe was "Pierce Penilesse", the persona he created in this pamphlet - an exasperated young scholar who's found that talent, hard work and application get you nowhere in this world.
  c.1592? The Choise of Valentines


That poem. After Harvey accused him of "prostituting (his) pen like a Curtizan" Nashe airily tried to excuse himself thus: "well it may and it may not bee so, for neither will I denie it nor will I grant it..." He went on to claim that, okay, now and then in his knife-edge existence he'd had to raise funds by producing work to please young men about town and their lady friends... The reality here is closer to Harvey's criticism; this poem is pornographic. It is, though, convincing proof that unlike the Victorians the Elizabethans knew all about the female orgasm.

  1592 Summer's Last Will and Testament


Not published till 1600, but internal evidence shows Nashe produced this play for Archbishop Whitgift at his summer residence in early October 1592. Nashe's only surviving play, it was never meant for the public stage, only for private entertainment in a great household. It's odd, more like a traditional morality than a new play, and it has Nashe's most famous poem (the one containing the line "Brightness falls from the air...")

  1593 Strange Newes


In which Nashe opens fire on Gabriel Harvey. The background is:- In 1590 Gabriel's little brother Richard, a clergyman and former lecturer of Nashe at Cambridge, had taken exception to the presumptuous verdicts on modern writers in Nashe's preface to Menaphon, and given him a snotty ticking-off in his own The Lamb of God. Nashe didn't reply - then - but in Pierce Penilesse (1592) he repaid little Harvey with the sort of verbal kicking that must have had ex-Cambridge graduates hooting with joy.
This naturally brought in big brother Gabriel, already committed to sorting out Robert Greene for his recent attack on all three Harvey brothers. Gabriel, aware of Nashe's new assault on Richard and of his friendship with Greene, classed him as another idle troublemaker. In Four Letters (1592), his demolition of Greene, he dismissed Nashe as the dead man's "sworn brother", an even trashier young reprobate he must wearily scrape off his heel, "still more paltry, but what remedy? We are overshoes and must now go through..." Thus he invited Nashe to target him. Strange Newes let him have it.
  1593 Christs Teares over Ierusalem


In which Nashe attempts to make peace with Gabriel Harvey. Christs Teares is anomalous, even for a writer as pointedly varied as Nashe. In his Epistle to the Reader he claims to have had a profound change of heart. Goodbye satire and being rude to respectable academics, hello hark-from-the-tomb preachifying and begging the world to leave its wicked ways. Yes, act decently for a change! And hey, you women - stop using cosmetics or you'll end up casseroling your own kids! Or worse.

Was he serious? God knows. But oddly enough, it was Christs Teares which provoked the London authorities to jail Nashe. Evidently there was more to it than meets the modern eye.

  1594 The Terrors of the Night


A rambling work, even for Nashe. It's partly a rumination on how night-time affects our psychological state; partly a discussion of dreams, with Nashe robustly sceptical that they are ever any guide to the future at all; different types of spirits and their effect on human beings; the shabby tricks practised by so-called "wise men" and alchemists; a fervent thank-you passage to Sir George Carey; and a weirdly fantastical story of a gentleman suddenly falling sick and being tormented with visions. It seems to have been written and circulating in manuscript well before it was published.
  1594 The Unfortunate Traveller

Quote: Failed dedication

An interesting work, often cited as a very early example of the picaresque novel. Ostensibly set in the time of Henry VIII, it tells of the adventures of a roguish page called Jack Wilton, who follows the army into France and later travels into Italy in the service of his master, the Earl of Surrey. Jack has numerous adventures and narrow escapes before finding true love and contentment with the black-eyed courtesan, Diamante. Broadly amusing, the book came out in the year when the trial of Doctor Lopez. a Jewish physician executed on a charge of plotting to poison the queen, was hot news. It therefore has some opportunistic anti-Semitic passages which are sickening to the modern taste.
  1596 Have with you to Saffron-walden


Saffron-Walden was the home of Dr. Gabriel Harvey. Nashe had left Harvey with the latest word in their feud by failing to answer 'Pierce's Supererrogation'; with this pamphlet he avenged himself completely. A good deal more fanciful than 'Strange Newes', this pamphlet rambles even more than most, but has some absolute jewels of comic prose. Nashe invents a suitable childhood for Harvey, complete with alleged progress reports from an early tutor. He also provides a brilliant but alas largely fictional account of the great doctor's incarceration in Newgate on a charge of debt. The form is ingenious - almost like a playscript rather than a straightforward pamphlet.
  1599 Nashes Lenten Stuffe


A pamphlet dedicated to the fishing town of Great Yarmouth. Nashe briefly took refuge there in the autumn of 1597 after his involvement in part-writing the lost play 'The Isle of Dogs' (with Ben Jonson) almost led to his arrest. The play is lost because it was instantly and ruthlessly suppressed, but whatever was in it so enraged the Privy Council that all the London theatres were closed in punishment, and Nashe forced to leave town so suddenly he lost all his papers and notebooks, seized at his lodgings.

Partly based on a history of Yarmouth by Henry Manship, Lenten Stuffe veers about all over the place, offering such gems as Nashe's highly individual take on the tale of Hero and Leander (which turns out to have been a much less glamorous affair than his friend Marlowe's poem might lead us to believe), and a ludicrous account of a meeting between the Pope and a herring.



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Site maintained by R. Lamb:   Last updated 20 January 2012